Despite populist rhetoric, U.S. bipartisan support endures
One year after Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, perceptions about both countries have changed dramatically. Ukraine has proven itself both on the battlefield and in the world of international politics. Rising star Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has captured the world’s focus, portraying his nation as strong and in a noble fight for sovereignty and independence. Meanwhile, Russia has been accused of committing numerous crimes against humanity, becoming a villain on the international stage. One year of conflict has culminated in the NATO alliance labeling Russia as the most significant threat to security, peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.
From the beginning of their invasion of Ukraine, Russia has cracked down on free speech, opting instead to spread propaganda as means to influence its citizens. In early March of 2022, Putin signed into law a rule punishing anyone spreading reports about the Ukrainian invasion that conflicted with the Russian government’s version of events.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and fake news about Ukraine being riddled with Nazis. While Ukraine does have a racism problem, President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Dylan Irons. “The idea that a Jewish man is leading a Nazi state is preposterous and kind of deranged.”
“[Russians] are being told that Russian soldiers are extremely decorous and careful about preserving Ukrainian civilian life, that they’re being greeted as liberators, that everybody wants to live under Russian rule, and that there are no civilian casualties on the Ukrainian side,” said Julia Loffe, a Russian-born American journalist in an interview with NPR.
“And if they trust those sources of information, then they believe, for the most part, what the Kremlin is telling them, and for the most part, they support this war,” said Loffe. “But the war they’re supporting is not the war that exists on the ground in Ukraine.”
Despite efforts by the Russian government, the war remains unpopular with many Russian citizens.
“This is not a popular war on the domestic front for Vladimir Putin,” said Professor Irons. “Since Russia has installed their draft to conscript young men into this war, The U.S. has received over 20,000 Russian asylum applications.”
And yet the Russian Propaganda machine continues to churn.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a crowd during the nation’s “Glory to Defenders of the Fatherland” event, an occasion marking the eve of Russia’s holiday celebrating those who served in armed forces. The crowds were gathered in Moscow’sLuzhnikiStadium where tens of thousands of Russians packed together waving Russian flags and chanting patriotic songs.
During his speech, Putin ignored homegrown opposition to the war, declaring that “today they are supported by the whole country.” He opted instead to heap praise on Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, addressing a crowd that erupted into chants of “Russia, Russia, Russia.”
“When we are together, we have no equal,” said Putin discussing updates from generals at the front lines. “The people standing here made a decision to defend the most sacred of what we have, family and Motherland.”
At one point, the ceremony took an especially dark turn when a group of children were ushered on stage – children who were ‘rescued’ from the Donbas region and Ukrainian city of Mariupol –and made to hug a uniformed Russian Soldier labeled as their rescuer. This was particularly disturbing when taken into consideration with a report produced by a US State Department-backed Conflict Observatory by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab, established last year to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
The report contains details about Moscow’s efforts to relocate and reeducate Ukrainian children, finding that more than 6,000 children have been in Russian custody. The children are being held in a network of dozens of camps where some are being forcibly adopted and other’s abducted into the Russian army
The report specifically states that the number of children, ages ranging from four months to 17 years, is “not known and is likely significantly higher.”
“All levels of Russia’s government are involved,” said human rights investigator Nathaniel Raymond, a member of Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab. “Consider this report a gigantic Amber Alert that we are issuing on Ukraine’s children.”
The Russian government disputed the report calling its findings “absurd.”
“We do our best to keep minors in families, and in case of absence or death of parents and relatives— to transfer orphans under guardianship,” said Russian spokesperson Igor Girenko. “We ensure the protection of their lives and well- being.”
One year into the Russia- Ukraine war has led to a changing world but also a changed Ukraine, as it continues to prove itself a formidable foe, battling Russia for sovereignty.
Both Ukraine and its president Zelensky have gained global renown. Former comedian and actor Zelensky has continued to change after a year of war, becoming stancher in his attacks against Russian forces and more forceful in his pleas for aid. With Ukraine putting up a bigger fight than Russia expected they have started terrorizing Ukrainian citizens, including targeting Ukrainian infrastructure leaving swaths of the country without heat, electricity, or water.
Russian forces have enforced a year of brutal killings, slaughtering civilians in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha, Borodyanka and Mariupol. According to the United Nations at least 7,199 civilians have been killed by Russian campaigns, while another 11,756 have been injured. The true figure remains obscure with U.N. officials calling the true figure likely much higher, perhaps double.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia’s actions constitute crimes against humanity. Among the most severe crimes, according to Blinken are “execution- style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children; torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions; rape.”
Despite brutal human rights violations from Russia’s soldiers, Ukrainian resolve remains strong.
“The entire country rose up to defend itself,” said Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, Oleksii Reznikov during an interview with Forbes. “Not just our military forces but every citizen: civilians, volunteers, old grandmothers and grandfathers all started to fight to the best of their ability.”
Still, Ukrainians worry that while they stay resilient, the support that they have from other countries may start to fade.
“I was afraid last summer that Ukraine fatigue would set in, and the help would dry up,” said Reznikov during an interview with Forbes. “Luckily, that didn’t happen, and the Ramstein contact group, created under the leadership of the U.S., the so-called anti-Kremlin coalition of more than 50 countries, more than belong to NATO, continues to work. It’s been very clear: at first, we had to stop them, then stabilize the front and then start a counter-offensive. And then, to liberate our territories.”
Ukraine remains defiant, with Zelensky calling- out Putin during a recent interview. “Who is he now?” asked Zelensky. “After the full-scale invasion, for me he is nobody. Nobody.”
From the beginning, the Biden administration has made its stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict clear. Immediately after Putin’s initial announcement of war, Biden released a statement on February 23, 2022, calling for Russia to be held “accountable.”
“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way,” said Biden.
It seems this attitude holds true as Biden made a surprise trip to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on February 20, a move to further dignify solidarity with Ukrainians as they enter their second year of conflict with Russia. During his visit Biden met with Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the pair engaged in a five-hour meeting, discussing further aid efforts, next steps and Ukrainian resilience. The meeting culminated in Biden announcing a half a billion dollars of further assistance to Ukraine as well as new sanctions on Russia.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” said Biden triumphantly, standing on a podium flanked with both Ukrainian and American flags. “And Ukraine stands. And democracy stands.”
Despite Biden’s renewed enthusiastic support for Ukraine, support among the American people for Ukraine has begun to soften. According to a poll from the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only 48% of Americans say that they favor the US providing weapons to Ukraine, while in May 2022, 60% of Americans said they were in favor of sending Ukraine weapons.
A minority of GOP House members have pushed for the incoming Republican majority to prioritize reducing aid to Ukraine, including representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R- GA) and others. Republican representative Jim Banks of Indiana said that the U.S. “can’t put America first by giving blank checks to those around the world to solve their problems.” Fifty-seven Republicans in the House and 11 in the Senate voted against the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill in May.
“The idea that a Jewish man is leading a Nazi state is preposterous and kind of deranged.”– Professor Dylan Irons
“People like Marjorie Taylor Greene don’t represent people who have exposure to objective news or objective political analysis of foreign policy,” said Professor Irons. “They know it riles up their voter base and they know it garners support for them. I think it’s kind of sad because they don’t really stand for anything. They just want to make headlines.”
On Twitter, Marjorie Taylor Greene used the war with Ukraine as a reason for a “National Divorce.”
“In a National Divorce, our Department of Defense would defend America’s borders not be on the verge of WWIII with Russia and China because our overly powerful federal warlords serve Ukraine first,” tweeted the congresswoman.
The threat of World War III was also echoed by Former President Donald Trump, who sent a message on the social media platform Truth Social criticizing Biden.
“If you watch and understand the moves being made by Biden on Ukraine, he is systematically, but perhaps, unknowingly, pushing us into what could soon be WORLD WAR III. How Crazy is that?” said Trump.
At the same time leading House Republicans have called on Biden to increase military support for Ukraine. Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul has called bipartisan support for Ukraine “still very strong.”
“The longer [the Biden administration] drags this out, they play into Putin’s hands,” said McCaul during the Munich Security Conference in Germany. “He wants this to be a long, protracted war because he knows that potentially, he will lose.”
Also speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Vice President Kamala Harris directly called out Russia for war crimes.
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity,” said Harris. “To all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes, you will be held to account.”
“Opposition to sending aid to Ukraine is a very vocal minority,” said Professor Irons. “We may hear this blustery rhetoric from folks like Marjorie Taylor Green and other fringe right politicians, but the reality is that there is, by and large, bipartisan support for continuing aid to Ukraine.”